Many people hope to improve their health by taking vitamins, minerals or other forms of dietary supplements on a regular basis. Some consumers use multivitamin and mineral supplements to ensure they're getting all the daily nutrients they need, just in case something is missing from their diets, while others use specific dietary supplements therapeutically because they believe they'll help treat health conditions.
The most familiar types of dietary supplements are probably the multivitamins and calcium pills or tablets. But there are many other products that fall under the dietary supplement category. According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, a dietary supplement is:
- intended to supplement the diet.
- contains one or more dietary ingredients or their constituents.
- intended to be taken orally.
- is labeled as being a dietary supplement.
When you go to a store that sells dietary supplements, you may find products such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, food extracts, fatty acids, and other food components like the antioxidants lutein and quercetin. But before you buy any dietary supplements, you need to consider dietary supplement safety.
Dietary Supplement Regulation
Dietary supplement use isn't regulated as strictly as medications. For example, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't require proof that dietary supplements are safe or effective before they are sold. Some products, like raspberry ketone for example, are advertised to have health benefits but have no clinical trials demonstrating safety or effectiveness. However, supplement manufacturers have to follow a few do's and don'ts when it comes to labeling and making certain claims on their products. The label on a dietary supplement bottle may state the supplement addresses a nutrient deficiency, supports health, or may have an effect on some function or structure of the body -- if these claims are supported by research. Each type of claim has a specific meaning:
- a nutrient content claim states the approximate amount of the dietary substance in the product.
- health claims indicate a relationship between consuming the dietary substance and changing disease risk, if there is sufficient evidence. These claims are regulated by the FDA.
- structure or function claims describe how the dietary substance may affect the body. These claims are not regulated by the FDA, so it is up to each supplement manufacturer to be truthful and accurate with these claims.
Although dietary supplements don't have to prove safety or effectiveness before marketing, the FDA may determine that a dietary supplement is not safe. When that happens, the FDA can restrict or ban the sales of that product.
While dietary supplement use is generally safe, there are some things to consider if you are thinking about taking dietary supplements. Always speak with your health care provider if you are:
- taking any medications, as some dietary supplements may have unwanted interactions.
- planning surgery, because some supplements can affect bleeding, or response to anesthesia.
- pregnant or nursing, since some supplements can affect the baby.
- thinking about taking a dietary supplement in place of a medical treatment.
When it's time to choose your dietary supplements, you might be overwhelmed with all the brands and types available. Different products may be of different quality. Ask your health care provider, pharmacist, dietitian or nutritionist for suggestions about certain formulas or brands if you're not sure which ones to choose. Always follow the label instructions, unless your health care provider has advised you differently, because some supplements, such as vitamin B-6 can become toxic when taken in large amounts.
NCCAM - National Institutes of Health. Using Dietary Supplements Wisely. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/supplements/wiseuse.htm Accessed November 12, 2009.
Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health. Dietary Supplements: Background Information. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/dietarysupplements/. Accessed November 12, 2009.
United States Food & Drug Administration. Claims That Can Be Made for Conventional Foods and Dietary Supplements. http://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/LabelClaims/ucm111447.htm. Accessed November 12, 2009.